3 Simple Strategies for Navigating Life Transitions
By Elena Simonsen
1. the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
In our last blog post , we explored what life transitions are and how they can impact different spheres of your well-being (if you haven’t yet, check that out HERE!). When thinking about life transitions, some important points to remember include:
A multitude of different events can be considered transitions
Some transitions stand out and impact us more than others
Transitions impact our thoughts, emotions, and physical being
Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate transitions, and you will likely experience some level of stress whether you perceive the transition as “positive” or “negative”.
Now that you’ve had a quick refresher on how life transitions may affect you, let’s focus on some simple strategies you can use when navigating life transitions in a way that keeps you happy, healthy, and at ease.
How to Navigate Life Transitions Safely:
When life transitions cause you to experience increased levels of stress, you may find yourself engaging in unhelpful behaviors. These may include:
● Increased substance use
● Isolating yourself from friends, family, and other loved ones
● Consuming more food than your body needs, or restricting your food intake
● Hyper-focusing on the transition, which may make it difficult to:
○ Focus at work
○ Be present in your relationships
○ Get adequate sleep
● Avoiding facing your feelings about the transition, perhaps by bingeing on a Netflix show or playing video games for much longer than you intended
While using the strategies above may relieve your stress in the moment, they won’t help decrease your stress in the long term and may even cause you to experience more stress later on. If you’ve found yourself doing some of these things, or just want to learn some new helpful strategies to lower your stress, you can try:
1. Seeking support. Try calling a friend, family member, or mentor to get some feedback on how you might best handle the transition. Ideally, you want to talk to someone that has experienced a similar transition and handled it without experiencing much stress or found helpful strategies for managing the stress.
2. Practicing radical acceptance. Radical acceptance involves accepting a situation as it is and recognizing that you cannot change any situations that are out of your control. This doesn’t mean that you have to like the situation. It just means you acknowledge the situation for what it is. I’ll admit, this is much easier said than done. So, to help you practice this concept, here’s a simple acronym (A.C.C.E.P.T.S.- how fitting!) that you can follow to put radical acceptance into practice:
Activities- do something that requires you to concentrate. Choose some sort of activity or hobby, like reading a book.
Contributing- volunteer or do some other sort of activity that will benefit someone other than yourself.
Comparisons- I like to think of this one as changing your perspective. Try to look at the situation from a different angle. For example, you could think about what you would say to your best friend if they were in a similar situation.
Emotions- do an activity that cultivates the opposite of what you’re feeling. So, if the transition is leading you to feel stressed, try listening to some calming music, or do a quick yoga video on YouTube to cultivate a sense of peace and stability.
Pushing away- delay unhelpful thoughts about the situation. Perhaps you do so by writing down unhelpful thoughts and throwing away the paper- or visualizing yourself doing so.
Thoughts- distract your thoughts. You can do this by counting backwards from 100 by 4, or silently naming all the national football league teams by state.
Sensations- activate your physical senses to help reduce your stress. You can try holding an ice cube, sucking on a lemon or something else sour, or lighting a scented candle.
Using A.C.C.E.P.T.S.* will help decrease the distress the transition may be causing you when it feels too overwhelming to process in that moment. Once you’ve decreased your stress level, give #3 a try!
*Note: This technique was adapted from this worksheet: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/dbt-distress-tolerance-skills.pdf*
3. Cultivate an awareness of the emotions you’re experiencing surrounding the transition and process those emotions. You can do this through journaling, meditation, and/or therapy.
Using these techniques rather than attempting to avoid your emotions surrounding the transition will help you to be more flexible and accepting of the change. It will also help you to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety surrounding the transition. I recommend practicing these strategies at least 2-3 times per week (whether you’re experiencing a transition or not) for them to become habitual and be most effective.
Remember, these strategies may not work for everyone, and some people may need more time and support to navigate transitions than others. That's okay! We are all unique and thus the process of navigating life transitions will look different for each of you. Just remember to take each day as it comes and accept where you are in the process of the transition with grace. You’ve got this!
Be Your Best Self + Thrive Counseling uses a holistic, non-judgmental approach to help you build an alliance with your mind, body and spirit that work together for your benefit. If you are looking for a therapist who is experienced in helping you to navigate life transitions, Elena Simonsen is a clinician who can help you explore ways to cope. Book your free 15-minute session with her here.